Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Superstar Billy Graham Experience - By Rock Rims

“The Times they are a-Changin’…” – Bob Dylan

     It was a Friday night in early 1980, and the whole family was excited as we sat in our seats in the World Famous Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles.  This would be another memorable night of entertainment for me, as all opportunities to see wrestling live at the Olympic were.  And to add to the excitement, we were seated only 5 or 6 rows from the ring, thus we had a better vantage point of the action than we normally did.  And my Stepfather never let us forget it.

     For while The Olympic Auditorium had Jeff Walton for a publicist, my Stepfather was his very own.  “Man, look at these great seats!  We have better seats than almost everyone! The other kids’ Dads didn’t get them seats like this!”

     The only thing that night that made him feel more impressed with himself took place during the intermission.  Sitting in front of us were two other Latinos who were about 16 years old, and at one point they both turned around, and one of them asked my Stepfather, “Who are you?”  Apparently, they thought he was a wrestler who had decided to get a closer look at the matches.  “Him?!” I thought incredulously.  While my Stepfather was a little bigger than lots of Latinos at that time, I hardly thought that he looked like a professional wrestler.  But then again, he did have a Carlos Mata type of body, and the wrestlers’ bodies at that time would look very different from what many wrestlers would look like in years to come.

     And as I sat there waiting for the intermission to be over and the program to resume, the thought of wrestler’s physiques and Carlos Mata made me flash back to about a year and half earlier, when I first caught a glimpse of what was undoubtedly the greatest wrestling physique at that time. 

     It was 1978, and I was at home watching Wrestling from the Olympic on the UHF channel and they were broadcasting matches that had been recently taped on Weds. August 30th.  And it was Carlos Mata himself waiting for his opponent to arrive and enter the ring.  And soon would enter a man, who compared to Carlos Mata looked like a Giant of a man, and who had the most impressive physique I had ever seen on a wrestler!  The guy looked more like Lou Ferrigno, the bodybuilder/actor who played the Incredible Hulk on Television than he did any wrestler I had ever seen!  And what made him even more impressive to me, even before he performed a single move in the ring, was ring announcer Jimmy Lennon proclaiming that the man was a former WWWF World Champion.  I knew from the wrestling magazines that Bruno Sammartino had been the previous champion, and after having seen a profile of Bruno on the “Greatest Sports Legends” Television program, I knew that if this “Superstar Billy Graham” had beaten Bruno, he was a man to be reckoned with.  And while he would at times manhandle Carlos Mata during the match, it would still be a few years before I would begin to grasp what a tremendous impact Superstar Billy Graham would make in professional wrestling.

     His stay at that time turned out to be brief, and in actuality, this wasn’t the Superstar’s first trip through L.A.  In fact, after a brief time wrestling for Stu Hart in Calgary, Los Angeles would be the place where a young Wayne Coleman would begin his evolution to becoming Superstar Billy Graham, a legend in Professional Wrestling, and a charismatic innovator and forerunner in Sports Entertainment.

    But in the summer of 1970 it was still “Wrestling” so when bodybuilder turned wrestler Billy Graham showed up alongside the infamous Jerry Graham in promoter Mike LeBelle’s office, LeBelle along with Booker Charlie Moto and assistant Freddie Blassie, had their doubts about the duo. Fortunately, publicist Jeff Walton saw promise in the massive bodybuilder and the Graham brothers were given a shot.  While Billy’s stay was only a few months, the opportunity gave him much needed experience and exposure, and he enjoyed the local bodybuilding scene and the sunshine.  And shopping in L.A. also gave him the opportunity to begin crafting the part of his “look” that involved his wrestling attire. 

     For the “Superstar Billy Graham experience” would eventually become a multi-faceted one, a multi-layered one, with so much to offer.  With the feathered boas, the tie-dyed attire, the jewelry, the entertaining promos, the bumps and selling in the ring, the chiseled physique, and his amazingly charismatic presence, it was like having a multi-course meal at a fine restaurant.  Sure he wasn’t exactly a ring technician, and he’d be the first to admit that, but he excelled so much in presentation, the lack of a vast wrestling repertoire was easy to overlook.  After all, most meals in fine restaurants are presented so beautifully, are made to appear so appetizing, that you quickly forget just how small the portions are. 

     And Billy completely understood that and it was an important part of the psychology of his wrestling.  And it was during his time in Roy Shire’s San Francisco promotion in 1971 that he would learn some of the most important lessons of ring psychology.  Initially, he was paired up with Legendary Pat Patterson and that was the best thing that could happen to Graham at that point is his career.  “Patterson was my mentor, “ Graham would go on to say, and when it came to ring psychology, Graham could hardly have a better one.  Under the tutelage of Patterson, as well as Ray “The Crippler” Stevens, and working with the likes of Rocky Johnson and Peter Maivia, Billy would receive an education in what he described in his autobiography as “Mark manipulation”.

     And it’s perfectly normal for people to bristle at the thought that they’re being manipulated (and for some, to be referred to as a “mark”), for it makes them feel as if they’re being taken advantage of, made to appear foolish.  But in this case, I wouldn’t look at it as a “dirty” word.  Because for anyone whoever had exposure to the Superstar Billy Graham experience, they wanted to be manipulated.  That’s because unlike most situations where the manipulator is the sole beneficiary of the end result, here, everyone wins.

     Because Billy gave us what we asked for, what we wanted to see.  We wanted to hear what he had to say, even if it made us angry at times, even if he belittled his opponent, even if that opponent was our hero.  And we were gluttons for the punishment.  What he said on the mic made us want to see him in the ring.  He put asses in seats and viewers in front of television sets, and that was his job.  And no one ever got dragged kicking and screaming to those seats.  It’s where we wanted to be.  His promos were the entrĂ©e that whetted our appetite, made us look forward with eager anticipation to what was to come.  If we admired his opponent before Graham took the mic, we absolutely adored him afterward.  It made us root for him all the more so that he would topple the big man with the big mouth. And not only did we hope that our hero would do it, but we also knew that quite possibly, he might.  Because even though he belittled his opponent, Graham was clever enough to also acknowledge his prowess.  After all, who would want to pay or tune in to see him beat a “nobody”?  And yet, not everyone wanted to see the brash, arrogant Graham fall from grace.  His charisma, magnetic personality, and unique look and presentation certainly earned him a share of supporters.  Most wanted to see him soundly defeated, some wanted to see him victorious, but all wanted to see him.

     And he wouldn’t disappoint.  Whether you were rooting for him or against him, when he was in the prime of his career, you always felt as if watching Graham was both time and money well spent.  And that’s a kind of manipulation that anyone can live with.  Billy was an artist, not only in his personal life, but in his professional one as well.  Some artists paint a picture with paints, writers do it with words, but all invite the viewer or reader to participate to a degree, to bring their own perspective, emotions, and interpretation to the experience.  And Billy did that as well, responding to the crowds, leading them where he wanted them to go, getting them emotionally involved, immersing them in the experience.  It was both theater and art at its finest. 

   And in order to do that, Billy would check his ego at the door.  He was a true professional, because for him, it was all about telling a compelling story, what would make the fans fell like they got their monies worth, and would make them be willing to come back for more.  One great example of this was the match where he defended the WWWF title against Mil Mascaras on December 19, 1977 at New York’s Madison Square Garden.  While Billy has mentioned that he felt Mil wasn’t willing to sell enough, having watched countless Mil Mascaras matches, I know that Mil actually did a little more selling than he typically does.  Regardless, the pairing still resulted in an exciting match, in large part due to Billy’s consummate professionalism, as he was undaunted by the minimal amount of time that Mascaras spent selling Graham’s holds and moves.

    Once the bell rang, the initial action was fast and furious, with Billy taking large bumps, begging off from Mil’s assault, seeming bewildered, overwhelmed, and consulting with his manager the Grand Wizard, as if to say, “What do I do with this guy?!!!”  And when Billy had the advantage, he was ever the arrogant, cocky, crowing bully, only to beg off again, take big bumps, and flop around on the mat like a fish out of water when his opponent turned the tide.  This was a formula that Graham often employed as part of his ring psychology, and as usual, the crowd ate it all up, and in a way that you just don’t see anymore. 

     Graham always made people want to see him “get his”, receive his “come uppings”, but it never really seemed to happen.  It’s interesting to note that many of his matches ended by count out or disqualification, but I don’t think that mattered much.  That’s not really part of his legacy.  Because even when he lost, he had delayed our satisfaction, increased our tension, made us have to come back for more.  And even when our relief would finally come, it would only be after he would draw things out.  And we enjoyed it more because he made us work for it, and during the time that we did, there was always an element of uncertainty as to what the end result would be.  It’s like comparing an easily won love interest to the one we had to work for. And if selling out Madison Garden 19 times out of the 20 that he headlined the card, if the fact that fans and wrestlers alike are still talking about the great memories they had of Superstar’s career are any indication, then no one’s complaining about the results.  While Superstar Billy Graham’s career at the top of the Professional Wrestling game and his reign as WWWF World Champion were brief, his legacy is immortal. - RR


Tuesday, February 5, 2013


     Start with an environment that encourages, expects, promotes, and respects a great work rate, add several heaping amounts of veterans and hungry newcomers, and top off with a combination of Japanese and Lucha Libre holds, and high flying, high impact maneuvers, and what do you get?  A recipe for excitement and a great card and DVD that is “UWA Invasion a Japon vol. #2”!
     Japan and Mexico have long had a history of exchanging talent and providing each other with “finishing schools” for imported wrestlers.  And those wrestling fans who are aware of this and that wrestling has much more to offer than what the American promotions or today’s “Big Two” might have you believe, have longed reaped the benefits of that talent exchange.
    And actually, even those who may not be fully aware of this have reaped the benefits.  For without this international wrestling scene and mutual cooperation, the styles, repertoires, and skill levels of such greats as Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, and many others, would not have been what they eventually became.
    And one of the greatest periods of times during which this talent exchange occurred was during the 80’s and early 90’s, particularly between Mexico’s UWA promotion and some of the various promotions in Japan.  And the event/DVD which I’ll be reviewing is a perfect example of what can result when wrestling promotions and fans recognize that when it comes to wrestling, “One size does not fit all.”
     This event took place on 11/17/90 in Japan, and was titled “Lucha Primera Clase II”, or as the DVD of the event would be entitled, “UWA Invasion a Japon Volume 2”.  And there are 6 matches on this 2 hr. and 20 min. DVD which has very good-excellent video quality.  And not only is the action great from bell to bell, it also features future legends before they were stars, and has a little something for everyone.  So fasten your seatbelts, and let’s get started!

Match 1: Coolie SZ &  Bulldog KT vs. Monkey Magic Wakita & Masa Michinoku:
This opening match features future Japanese Legends and long time tag partners Gedo (Coolie SZ) and Jado (Bulldog KT) facing off against two other future legends Super Delfin (Monkey Magic) and the Great Sasuke (Michonoku).  Not only do you get to see them early in their careers, but you get to see Delfin and Sasuke before they would don masks.  But don’t blink, because these guys don’t even wait until the bell rings to get things started.  In and outside of the ring, they perform a series of high flying and high impact maneuvers, gaining both the fans and viewer’s attention and setting a great tone for the rest of the event.  It’s a very short match, but they cram a lot into those few minutes.

Match 2:  Bello Greco & Sergio Hermoso vs. Kung Fu & Takeda:
This is the first of what would be 2 comedy matches, and if you have never seen Bello Greco and Sergio Hermoso perform, then you’re in for a treat.  Normally I’m not a huge fan of comedy, and some might think it’s a little out of place in an atmosphere like Japan, where they appreciate actual wrestling, but this tag team has always had a way of performing in a way that wins over even the most emphatic pure wrestling enthusiast.  And shouldn’t wrestling be fun?  Kung Fu and Takeda (who is Japanese) both make clear in Spanish during their pre-match promos their disdain for their “flamboyant” (euphemism for their “gay” gimmick) opponents.  And when they get in the ring, they add their martial arts and lucha libre influenced wrestling maneuvers to Greco & Hermoso’s unique blend of comedy to make for a very entertaining match.  And watching a Bello/Greco match is like eating potato chips:  Once you’ve had one, you’ve got to have another.

Match 3: Blue Panther & Black Power vs. Yoshiro Asai & Kato Kung Lee:
A few years before he would don a mask and become known as the “Ultimo Dragon”, one of the most decorated Junior Heavyweights in Pro Wrestling History (at one time holding 10 different titles at once!), he was simply known as Yoshiro Asai.  And even at this point in his career, he had already thrilled many a fan, both in Japan and Mexico.  In this match he teams up with Mexico’s Kato Kung Lee against Black Power and Lucha Legend “Blue Panther”, also known as “El Maestro” (“The Teacher/Master”).  Many who have seen at least a little lucha (and in the case of Ultimo Dragon, WCW & WWE) are familiar with Blue Panther and the Ultimo Dragon, but there are some modern lucha fans who may have never seen Kato Kung Lee.  And the only way to describe him is: UNBELIEVABLE.  His style of lucha is not only high flying, but it includes martial arts strikes and some of the most amazing acrobatics.  If you’re impressed with the Undertaker walking the ropes, wait until you get a look at Kung Lee “running” the ropes, looking like someone out of “The Matrix!”  This match features great psychology while still maintaining a fairly quick pace, and the participants display great chain wrestling, mat wrestling, high flying spots, and Black Power adds some good high impact moves as well.  It doesn’t matter who you cheer for in this one, because no matter what, the viewer comes out the winner.

Match 4: Gran Hamada, Blackman, & Kendo vs. Los Brazos- UWA Trios Tag Team titles:
Recently I completed a custom DVD compilation of “Los Brazos” for Indy Pro Wrestler Colt Cabana, and this match was the one that I enjoyed the most and just had to include on that compilation. And after watching it again for this review, I realized that I enjoy it more and more each time I watch it.  While Los Brazos can certain wrestle, it’s their comedic genius that’s endeared them to so many fans of Lucha Libre and Puroresu.  This match is a 2 out of 3 falls event and is for the UWA Trios (6 man) Tag Team titles.  And you’ll be laughing your ass off even before the match even starts.  But don’t get me wrong, because this match doesn’t sacrifice good wrestling spots for the comedy, but rather enhances the wrestling with the hilarious spots.

Match 5:  Aja Kong, Bison Kimura, Madusa, La Diabolica, Xochitl Hamada vs. Manami Toyota, Mika Takahashi, Kodru Madea, Esther Moreno, Mariko Yoshida- 10 Woman Elimination Tag match:
     This is the second to last match of the event, but in reality, this is THE HIGHLIGHT of the card, and it steals the show.  It would take a series of articles to document the accomplishments of these participants in the Sport of Women’s Pro Wrestling.  And when I say Women’s Pro Wrestling, that’s exactly what I mean, because these aren’t “Divas” or “Knockouts”, they are women wrestlers.  And even 20 years ago, what they did in the ring was light years ahead of what American Women wrestlers are doing today.  In fact, it was even ahead of what some of the men are doing today.
      Madusa Micelli was well into the second of what would be a 3 year stint in Japan, and while she does a good job in this one, it’s clear that with all of the other talent in the ring, she still has much to learn (and she would), and that’s telling, considering that she was a former AWA Women’s World Champ.  Every participant distinguishes herself, and that includes Legends Aja Kong and Manami Toyota.  And Luchadora Esther Moreno is lighting quick, acrobatic, and reminds me of a female version of Ray Stevens:  Someone who knows how to and is willing to bump and sell.  Whether you’re a fan of high impact, mat wrestling, exchanges and submissions, or high flying, this one has it all.  Plus, this match has great intensity, with the women acting as if they are on a field of combat in a life or death struggle.  For most of the moves are accompanied by a combination of banshee/warrior battle cries. 
     This reminded me of when I went to L.A.’s “Little Tokyo”, searching for Japanese Wrestling and Kaiju videos.  My daughter was very young at the time and a big fan of the “Sailor Moon” video series.  I came across some video tapes with the original Japanese language tracks and I was amazed at how much more I enjoyed them than the English language versions.  The female characters also let out those intense Japanese battle cries and it just really added so much drama to what I was watching and made it more enjoyable.  Well, that and the fact that there’s always something immensely appealing about Catholic School Girl and Japanese Sailor Scout uniforms.
    So you need to see every match on this disc, but if you only had time for one, this would the one.

18 Man Lucha Rumble:
This event features the male wrestlers who had participated in the previous matches on the card and is much like a Royal Rumble, but with a few differences.  For one, instead of one participant being added at intervals, two are added.  And secondly, a wrestler isn’t eliminated by being thrown over the top rope, but rather by pinfall.  This makes for a little less brawling, and less stalling in the corner, with participants basically just holding onto each other.  So while it does have its share of brawling, this match also features more movement and maneuvers than the typical battle royal-type match.

So there you have it.  It’s a shame that with today’s wrestling scene that we have to often look back in time for a great wrestling event, but on the other hand, it’s nice to know that we can.  This DVD offers great bang for the buck, and there are several matches on this program that are worth the price solely on their own.  However what’s especially nice is that you don’t have to settle and that you can enjoy it from beginning to end.

I will be reviewing more old school DVDs, events, and matches in the future, and if you’re interested in this particular DVD title, you can contact me at for more info.